Portal for Public Consultations www.strategy.bg
Council of Ministers

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
We believe that involving a wide range of stakeholders in the policy-making process leads to better policy. Consultation can take different forms depending on the policy issue under consideration, but it is always important to have consultations with the society about new policies. In Bulgaria there is an obligation imposed by the Law on the Normative Acts, before adopting legislation, to publish it on the Internet site of the respective institution for at least 14 days of public consultation. Within the executive power, ministers are responsible for drafting normative acts. The average number of ministers within the government is about 17; the number of public institutions at central level is about 130. The problem was related to the existence of too many and different sources of information relevant to the public consultations in Bulgaria, which created obstacles for active participation of the civil society in the process of policy making. Draft normative acts used to be published on different websites. Thus, it was a real challenge for the stakeholders to search and find the relevant information on this websites and to participate actively into decision making processes. On one hand the administration created unnecessary bureaucracy in the process of informing stakeholders about proposed policies and in taking part in public consultations. On the other hand there was no information about adopted national and local strategic documents (state and local policies). In fact, citizens, professional organizations, non-government organizations, universities, think-tanks and other organizations were disappointed about the lack of adequate information about public policies. The aim of establishing transparent administration in this specific area has not been achieved.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Facing the challenge of involving civil society into decision- making process, integrated web Portal for Public Consultations www.strategy.bg has been established in 2008. The main objective of the initiative was to create one-stop shop for public consultations and discussions that would enable citizens and businesses to play an active role in the policy-making process in Bulgaria. It also aims at improving strategic planning practices in the administration. The target groups are civil society as a whole, but also specific target groups like business and non-governmental organizations in different areas, universities and think-tanks, etc. Nowadays the public consultations are being carried out on a central platform in different policy areas (agriculture, transport, finance, etc.). It is much easier for the society to follow new legislative and strategic initiatives. All strategic documents of the country at local, regional and central level are now available in one place. The information is very useful both for civil servants and civil society. This leads to improvement of the processes of strategic planning and policy elaboration in Bulgaria. The project helped the stakeholders and the civil society to be well and timely informed. The established Portal favours the inclusion of the views of stakeholders in the public policy making. It demonstrates openness through consultative mechanisms with the public.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The innovative way is related to the new institutional horizontal mechanisms for management. All ministries are working together in one place to achieve better consultations and better policies. Contact points are appointed in each ministry in order to take responsibility for publishing draft legislation. Decentralized access to the platform is ensured for each institution. The project has created real government networking at central level. The initiative implements new processes and institutional mechanisms and creates an e-participation channel to the demands and views of citizens. The web tool leads to better involvement of civil society in the decision-making process. It is an innovative tool for facilitation of e-participation and transparent government. The initiative is creative and innovative because the Bulgarian Portal for Public Consultations was the first governmental website in EU member state that provided all public consultations at one place at the time it was developed. It has been identified as a creative decision by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly report sOcialSCapE in 2013 as a new way of engaging citizens in governance (see page 48). The Portal is pro-active – citizens/organizations are allowed to subscribe for e-mail notifications when new public consultation is published.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
1. The initiative was outlined in the White Paper for a Modern Public Administration: Setting out the Achievements and Challenges for the Public Administration of Bulgaria in the European Union, 2005. About 50 NGOs and universities were involved in the preparation of the White Paper. They all agreed to the specific intervention for creating a unique place for public consultations. 2. The new tool was included as a measure in the Strategy for Transparent Governance and for Prevention and Counteraction of Corruption, 2006-2008. 3. The new tool was included as a measure in the programme budget of the Council of Ministers (Government’s office). 4. The Portal was established through a public procurement procedure after drafting a project concept for developing the website. It was decided to have three main sections: “Public consultations”, “Strategic documents” and “Today the society decides”. At these sections all main government initiatives (legislation and strategies) are published for public consultations. The Portal pays special attention to the voice of civil society in policy making. It is the only one place on the internet where you can find all strategic documents in Bulgaria. They are divided in the same areas of public policies as the public consultations. This makes searching and finding relevant information easier. 5. The administrators and contact points in the ministries were appointed. Training was provided. 6. Official kick-off was given by the Prime Minister in March 2008 together with the start of the first Better Regulation Program. 7. Internet banner was created. The banner was put on different websites: ministries, regional administrations, most of the municipalities; and NGOs. 8. A campaign promoting the website was launched. A process of affirmation of the website as a main place for public consultations on the internet took place.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The very first idea arose in the discussion on the White Paper for a modern public administration as an idea to involve civil society in the governance and to increase the activity of the civil society in public consultations. It was supported by many organizations, including international – UK Department for the International Development, etc. The World Bank office in Sofia was also involved in supporting the idea. A number of civil servants (about 30) and representatives of non-governmental organizations contributed to the idea of creating such a tool. Every ministry (the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education and Science, etc.) was involved in the project. All secretary generals and ministers supported the idea. The project was backed by the Bulgarian centre for nongovernment law (NGO) - http://www.bcnl.org/, the Institute for Market Economics - www.ime.bg, Public Administration Department at the “St. Kliment Ohridski” University of Sofia, etc. The project was implemented by the administration of the Council of Ministers.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The initiative was started by the Strategic Planning and Governance Directorate at the Council of Ministers. The cost of the new tool was about $20 000. The website was installed on an existing server at the administration of Council of Ministers. The initiative was at the expense of the state budget. Supporting letters for engaging the ministries in this initiative were received. The contact points in the ministries were appointed. About 30 people were involved on a regular basis to work on the Portal. When the technical formalities were overcome, the Portal was launched online and the official kick-off was made by the Prime Minister.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
1. Coverage – all institutions at central level were involved in the project. 2. Networking – we have created excellent working environment within the administration and real networking between institutions. 3. Transparency – we have created transparent environment and platform to exchange ideas between state, private sector, civic sector and the media. We have stimulated civil servants to work together with the civil society. 4. Better policy making – www.strategy.bg has a specific role at improving practices for policy making and policy elaboration. Nowadays you can better analyse the activities of the state at all levels. The existence of the tool stimulated activities for improvement of strategic planning system in Bulgaria. 5. Reduced time, efforts and money for the society and the state to participate in public consultations. We saved time and money for being informed and in taking part of public consultations of the institutions.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Monitoring system is established. We have introduced regular analysis about: 1. Number of draft normative acts published for public consultations. 2. Number of normative acts adopted by the Council of Ministers after public consultations on the Portal compared to the total number of normative acts adopted by the government. 3. Number of users of the Portal on a daily basis. 4. Activity of the civil society – given comments/proposals on the website. 5. Regular replies to the citizens/other organizations.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main obstacle to the implementation was related to the general traditions in the administration and to some misunderstanding of the role of such platform in the governance. However, this obstacle was overcome by discussions, open dialogue with senior civil servants, publicity, etc.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The Portal for Public Consultations www.strategy.bg is established as the main place for online public consultations in Bulgaria. It’s popular with its integrity and systematization of the draft laws. Now it is regularly observed by many active NGOs which make their own studies based on the information on the Portal. The Portal is also the one and only place for publication of all strategic documents in the state. It is the main source of information about strategic planning for many students, academia and think-tanks. The structure of the public consultations allows to follow the activities of particular ministries. It is a main source for analysing the transparency of institutions. The Portal is a main source for regulatory Impact assessments. It is a symbol for the transparency in the state. One of the main benefits of the initiative is the increased participation of citizens in governance. When adopting regulations, specific comments and suggestions by the civil society are taken into account. Thus a tool for civil control of the planning and implementation of policies is created, and e-democracy is strengthened. The service providing access to public information is improved, as the platform makes much easier the search and access to information for different stakeholders (journalists, academics, students and others). The impact is measured by the comments taken into account when adopting regulations and strategic documents.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The initiative is sustainable. The Portal was released six years ago and it remains the most recognizable place for public consultations and impact assessments. Strategic framework and relevant legislation are in place which makes the initiative sustainable. The initiative could easily be transferred to other member states of the European Union. Several legal information systems use the information on an everyday principle. The Portal is a centralized and sustainable mechanism for the participation of civil society in governance and development of e-participation. The initiative was developed at regional and municipal level too, with the practice of municipal administrations uploading documents for public consultation in one place becoming increasingly established The NGO sector has become sensitive about policy making and asks for more and better information.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The initiative is in fact a big step in the process of improving the activity of the public administration and making it more transparent. It is very pro-active and useful for third parties. The systematization of the draft legislation and strategic documents into categories makes the website a reliable source of information used for independent studies, research, articles, etc. It makes the process of monitoring the public policies much easier. It allows to third parties to be part of the decision making process. It is being developed permanently and more and more new functions are usually released making it more user-friendly. The Portal is a good practice and a basis for various future projects related to open government, such as projects related to Open Data etc. Although it is necessary for further steps to be taken: 1. Ensuring the full sustainability of the project needs an amendment of the Law for the Normative Acts to be taken. It’s necessary the obligation for publishing the bill on the respective website of the composer of the bill to be widen with the normative obligation the bill to be published on the Portal for Public Consultations as well. 2. It’s necessary the municipalities to be involved in the initiative and to start publishing the drafts of normative act in their own competences on the Portal. In this way we’ll have a unique practice (as our researches show) on one place on the internet all the bills of the central administration and the local government to be found on one place online.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Council of Ministers
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Iskren Ivanov
Title:   public administration expert  
Telephone/ Fax:   +35929402093
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   is.ivanov@government.bg  
Address:   1, Dondukov Blvd
Postal Code:   1594
City:   Sofia
State/Province:   Sofia

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